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MS GUNDAM: THE LOST CENTURY Interquel: Episode 10 - Choice
Written by: John Nigel
Suggested soundtrack for reading: "DAYBREAK'S BELL" by L'arc n' Ciel

MS GUNDAM: THE LOST CENTURY Interquel

Episode 10 – Choice


Lost Century. The whole world had witnessed the might and sheer power displayed by the Earth Federation’s newest weapon of mass destruction, the optical bombardment weapon known as Heaven’s Fist. It was first fired against the Royal Zeon diplomatic ship Solstice, disintegrating it in an instant, including the city of Apsalia, the capital of Thyatira. Rumors had spread out that Thyatira had expressed its intention of withdrawing from the league of nations that formed the Earth Federation, which many speculate that its destruction was a subtle yet clear message to other nations to think twice in following suit.

The city of Surabaya in East Java was also razed because the Federation simply had its eye and interest on its mass driver. The whole city was destroyed and flattened, killing millions of people. The existence of the colony-size space deployed orbital weapon posed a formidable threat which was impossible to ignore not only for Royal Zeon Empire but also even to the existing neutral nations.

Sovereign nations started to amass their own weapons for national security and defense upon the deployment of the Heaven’s Fist, for fear that they will be the “next target”. But most nations took advantage of this situation, which resulted to an abuse of a provision stated in the Peacecraft Treaty. Since there were smaller nations too small or too poor to defend themselves , stronger nations used this as an opportunity to invade or annex the less powerful ones, of which they reasoned as a way of protecting them but in exchange for colonization.

Pockets of war broke out as other nations waged war against one another, or with the Earth Federation, of which many believed Royal Zeon was behind everything. As wars continued to create a chaotic scenario in the world, Anaheim Electronics continued to mass produce warfare weapons including mobile suits. Other companies such as Morgenroate, Inc. were also occupied with establishing contracts in their own accord as well.

As the situation worsened, one can think that an impending full scale war is brewing in the sidelines and would eventually break out. In the middle of the whole conflict between the two major factions, the Earth Federation and Royal Zeon Empire, people were secretly mobilizing to douse the flames of war that was starting to spread from earth and into space all over again.

* * * * *

Southwestern coast

Puerto Rico

It was breaking dawn when Dharma came up to the water’s surface. It was a small-sized, multi-environment ship, capable of operating within the atmosphere and even underwater as it can also be launched in space. It had a single linear catapult which was 65 meters long and a hangar bay that can stock up five typical-sized mobile suits. It also had a retractable main weapon mounted on its bow, a particle impeller cannon similar to Magna Carta’s “Stratocaster” Mk. II.

Under the shroud of the morning mist that was caused by the season, the ship rose above the water and hovered, making its way through a canyon that led to a cliff up ahead.

“Reduce speed to 10 knots,” Talbot Carm said.

“Reducing speed as instructed,” was the reply coming from Mudd Blake, a former Earth Militaire soldier who was currently Dharma’s navigator.

A communication line opened up from an unseen source and broadcasted a message.

“Attention. You have reached a highly restricted perimeter. Identify yourselves immediately or you will be deemed as hostile.”

“Drake, the mic’s all yours,” Blau Binder said, the ship’s liaison.

Howling took the communicator and spoke, “This is Dharma, requesting access and entry. Drake Howling, standard operating procedure password, Kurt Cobain.”

“SOP password recognized and accepted. Dharma, you may proceed to docking bay 3. Welcome to NEU’s Atlantic Base.”

After the pleasantries, there was a loud, mechanical noise followed by a mild tremor on the ground. Rocks and soil fell when a whole face of a cliff before them suddenly moved and started to slide open. Blinking laser lights that served as guidance beacons extended to Dharma’s either side.

Talbot said, “Okay, bring us in, Mudd.”

“Starting docking sequence with bay 3. Dharma confirming control for the restraining arms. Three, two, one, contact!” There was a mild thud and a shudder all over the ship.

“Restraining arms, locking into place. Dharma has landed, Commander Drake.”

Howling protested, “I don’t want that title, you know. We will be disembarking, me, Sidhikoro, Miss Amber, and Melendrez. Talbot, you take the helm while we’re in. Whatever happens inside, especially when all hell breaks loose, you salvo all. I have to meet this ‘Professor’.”

“Are you this negative about this person?”

Howling sighed, “We’re talking about a god of war here. I don’t know if there’s some sense in having a conversation with him in the first place.”

Sidhikoro, who was silent for a moment, spoke up, “Then I should take offense on what you just said, Howling. I am a ‘god of war’ myself, don’t you remember?”

“Er, yes you are, but there’s some sanity inside of you.”

Talbot said, “Is this all about that plan?”

Howling’s countenance changed and he grimly replied, “There’s no other priority that we must fix our eyes into than putting that into action. We’re a small group and we need all the help that we can get from others who share the same burden as we do.”

He and Sidhikoro exited the bridge and went to the disembarkation bay. Melendrez and La Flaga were already waiting there for them.

Upon arriving there, Sidhikoro asked, “I was told that Achilles will be unloaded for refitting. Are these NEU guys as good as us in AE Black Wing?”

Howling replied, “I know that you’re cautious about any information that you wish not to be shared with them, but these guys are good. Their Tiberian department is as good as your renowned Black Wing Division, so don’t worry.”

“My concern is that I want to do the work myself. If there’s someone who understands Achilles in a personal level, then that’s me. Besides, I want to integrate a system into it.”

Freed butted in, “Would that be a Haro terminal by any chance, Diko-senpai? Because in case you need one, I have a Haro unit that’s not yet activated. I thought you might want it, so I can offer it to you, for a fee of course.”

“No worries, dude. I have one myself.”

“Hmmmm… an artificial intelligence control all else, while the sniper with an eagle eye focuses on his target. Not bad, I’d say. So, I’m looking forward to fight side-by-side with you.”

“And you better get out of my line of fire, Freed.”

“First things first, people. We need to meet the ‘Professor’ first,” Howling said. After that, the four left the ship.

* * * * *

Royal Zeon Iberia Base

“What’s this entire ruckus about?” asked a soldier to another as the base was preparing for something urgent. Everyone else was hurrying to his post like ants preparing for the rainy season.

“We’re to report to our stations. I heard that a High Command member is coming right here.”

“Are we on an alert status?” the first one nervously asked.

“Battle alert status wasn’t issued, so I guess this is a drill-like scenario. Besides, we have to look busy.”

They hurriedly ran along the hallway together with others who were anxiously doing their own thing. The two entered a jam-packed elevator, where inside, the only sound was the soft hum of the motors and the occasional whiplashing of cables straining over the load.

The nervous soldier spoke up, “C-could it be that the Federation is targeting the orbital weapon against this base?”

This statement caused a stir-up among others who, somehow, were clueless as the nervous one. Then a deep voice from among the people in the elevator gave a reply, “I assure you, soldier that your thoughts are far-fetched, at least for the moment. We are currently mobilizing for a grand scale operation that will determine the Empire’s and your future. Therefore, stand strong and fast. Royal Zeon is proud to have you among its ranks.”

Everyone turned around to see the person talking among them. Their eyes widened to realize who.

“I-It’s the… IT’S HIM!!! So that mobile suit in the hangar is the Kerad – ! Soldiers, ATTENTION!!!”

Even though they were cramped and crammed inside a very small area, everyone saluted upon realizing that it was Captain Magnus Alexandersson, the Crimson Striker, who was well-renowned among the military ranks, as well as among the Federation ranks.

“Captain Alexandersson, pardon our impertinence of not properly giving due respect to a high-ranking –!”

“At ease, soldier! The battle cry is sounded and we are about to enter into a war. But nevertheless, the Empire expects you to bravely join the ranks of the heroes to fend off these bastards who are wallowing in idiocy and cowardice, hiding behind the skirt of their government’s tyranny, which is now floating in space, posing a threat to our colonies. We will be commencing an operation like no other, an operation that might cost you your own life, as well as my own. But the outcome of this war will determine the future for our children; a future free from fear and terror, free from the ferocity of people who are tied and enslaved at the bottom of the gravity well!”

Fired up by this emphatic speech, the soldiers gazed at him with admiration as they chorused in chanting, “Sieg, Royal Zeon! Sieg, Royal Zeon! Sieg, Royal Zeon!”

As the elevator door opened, they hurried to their respective posts. Magnus stood at the door, smiling and thinking to himself. Ah, the strength inherent to youth – idealism. If only it were true, if only… but reality works in a sarcastically different manner.

A particular alarm sounded that made Magnus rush to the observation area of the building he was in. It indicated the arrival of a Royal Zeon ship from Asgard, the Empire’s capital colony. He squinted against the afternoon sun until he could distinguish the silhouette of the shuttle with its broad wings enabling it to glide in the atmosphere. In its train were two squadrons of ZAKU Nightmare acting as its convoy units.

“Hmmmm… He came after all,” Magnus muttered.

“Of course he would come. He can’t resist an operation as elaborate as this. Being a High Command member robs him from killing his enemies directly.”

Magnus turned and saw General Tigo Trueno. He immediately saluted, “Captain Magnus Alexandersson reporting as requested by the High Command, sir!”

Trueno returned the gesture. “Actually it’s him who particularly requested your squad to RTB. He wants you to personally assist him in the whole operation.”

“With all due respect, General, but I’d gladly serve under you than him. I am nowhere near being flattered as his chosen one.”

The General chuckled and said, “Off the record, Magnus, but you definitely dislike him, don’t you?”

“Dislike? I think that the more appropriate term would be ‘distrust’.”

Shaking his head, Trueno replied, “Well, what can you do? If a High Command member says so, you are to obey and follow through even is, how should I say this… even if you have to kiss his butt the whole day. Oh, well, see you at the situation room in thirty minutes.” They saluted and Trueno went his way.

Hmp! Magnus silently opposed. How could such a madman be sanely capable of…

His thoughts were lost as a familiar face came into view. Suddenly his name was called.

“CAPTAIN MAGNUS!!!”

He craned his head and saw Ensign Aya Creuset running towards him. His expression changed from anger to a leashed gladness.

She promptly saluted before him and with a tearful joy, she said, “Crimson Shadow, reporting. It’s… it’s a relief that you’re very much alive and well, Captain.”

With tenderness in his voice, the Crimson Striker replied, “It’s good to see you, Ensign.”

Somehow, an unspeakable emotion drenched the two who tried to conceal it from each other. Two more soldiers joined them and did some formalities.

“Ensign Adrian Zowih Frost, acknowledging the Crimson striker’s presence, sir!”

“Special Operative Richard Testarossa. It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Captain.”

Magnus broke into a broad grin. “Ah, Lord Heimlich’s masterpieces. We have high hopes on what you are capable of doing in the battlefield that no one else can.”

Testarossa said, “It’s a privilege that is worth my life to serve the Empire, Captain. We are fired up to see you lead us in the forefront.”

After their chat, the public address system blared, “Paging Captain Magnus Alexandersson. You are requested to report to the situation room situated in level 4, west wing in five minutes.”

Magnus turned to the trio, “It’s a gratification on my part to see you but responsibility comes first.” With that, he left.

Aya’s gaze followed the Captain as he disappeared in the sea of people. She whispered, “Magnus…”

Unknown to her, Testarossa secretly observed her display of emotions. Aya…

* * * * *

Persian Gulf

A black and gray ReZEL Shadow Blitz Custom in a waverider mode zipped through the air and approached the Magna Carta’s open deck catapult and was in the cycle of landing attempt. Being a transformable type mobile suit, it sped towards the ship with a speed and velocity too fast for comfort.

The personnel manning the deck control expressed alarm. “Aircraft designation R2, your approach speed is too fast! At this rate, you will crash onto the deck!!”

Still there was no sign that the waverider was stalling.

“He’s crazy!!!” He shouted through the deck intercom, “All hands, prepare for possible crash landing!!! Rescue units, standby!!! This is not a drill! I repeat, this is not a drill!!!”

All at once a pandemonium broke out on the deck. “All crew, clear the catapult deck!!! Secure the Jugho units!!!”

The ReZEL made a high speed flyby and started the landing sequence. The control personnel cringed at the imminent crash. The aircraft came in with such speed but before it was to crash against the hangar wall at the edge of the catapult deck, the pilot suddenly grinned and tugged hard at the control pegs, bringing the waverider to an indoor transformation. The aircraft changed configuration and became a mobile suit. He rammed hard on the vector thrusters that immediately brought the ReZEL to a sudden halt and instant hover. The thrust generated was so great that loose objects were thrown all over the place, the noise caused was to a highly deafening level.

Mere seconds after its transformation, the mobile suit gained adequate stability even in a very limited air space in the hangar bay. The pilot landed it softly and started the powering down.

The mobile suit started to kneel and the chest hatch opened. A man jumped out from the cockpit onto its knee, and finally slid down to the floor. As he removed his helmet, he noticed that the crew was staring at him in awe.

He muttered to himself, “PSH! That maneuver was just cakewalk.”

Finally, the deck intercom announced, “Welcome aboard Magna Carta, Mr. Ricardo Ismail.”

On the bridge, Captain Litzner Edge witnessed the whole incident via the security cameras. He grinned and thought, Good, good. This dog’s got the moves, and he’s living on the edge. This is a novelty!

Leaning forward at the console before him, edge pressed a button and said, “Deck control, have him come to the bridge at once. Commence maintenance and refueling procedure with the ReZEl.”

“Aye, Captain!”

Few minutes later, Ismail entered the bridge. An officer on duty suddenly voiced his disapproval upon seeing him with a sidearm holstered at his right thigh.

“Hey, you! You can’t bring that here!” The officer started to grab the weapon but Ismail quickly turned aside and in a single fluid motion, he brought a sudden chop onto the officer’s neck, knocking him unconscious, slamming down the floor.

Another personnel started to attack him, “KISAMA!! Who do you think –!” He was cut short in mid-sentence as Ismail met him with a kick to the left jaw. He spun twice before dropping down, cold and out.

“Security breach in the bridge! Requesting for immediate back-up!”

Edge barked, “Recant that alert! We can’t be hostile to our guest of honor now, can we?”

As the tension finally subsided, Edge turned to Ismail and said, “You still got it, I see. And that’s a relief, Mr. Ricardo Ismail.”

“How did you know about me?” Ismail demanded.

Edge grinned widely and replied, “Oh, I know a handful about you. Let’s see, where should I start? A former ace of the Federation’s paramilitary organization, Earth Militaire; lost your sister when the Empire destroyed Caucasus base years back; presently wandering here, there, and everywhere as a frustrated fighter who seeks vengeance cloaked as his own justice to be served. At least you should have listed yourself as killed in action when you hacked the Federation’s mainframe instead of just MIA.”

This angered Ismail. “You’re the one who needs something from me, so you better come straight to the point or I’ll attack this ship. Know that my ReZEL has a remote slave mode that enables it to respond to my commands. You are wasting your –!”

“I have the means for you to mete revenge on the ‘Harbinger of Death’, of which I believe you are itching… no, dying to get your hands on.”

At this, Ismail calmed down and became silent. Edge smiled and thought, Good, he’s easier to manipulate than I thought!

Finally he asked, “How?”

Edge let out his signature evil grin.

* * * * *

Desert of Pakistan

Hang on, Mumar! Don’t die on me yet, not yet!

A man rose from among the dunes and started to run towards the burning truck. He was wearing a cloak and hood over his head. As he climbed on a sand dune, he immediately stopped in his tracks and ducked as he saw six Royal Zeon “Widowmaker” hovertanks equipped with rail cannons and capable of clamping itself firmly onto the terrain for its Siege Mode and functions as a fixed heavy bombardment turret. The tanks caused up a storm of dust approximately a hundred meters away.

Oh, crap! I’m too late.

One hovertank with a conspicuous red and white stripe on its turret stopped near the burning truck. The hatch cover opened and a uniformed man stepped out and hurried towards something on the ground.

Mumar!! Is he dead? No, this can’t be! That information must be retrieved at all costs! Dammit!

Suddenly, the downed man took a gun and aimed at the soldier.

“You’ll have to get through me first before you’ll get what you’re after you bastard!”

The soldier calmly said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’re gonna hand over that electronic module and you’ll walk away with your life spared. I have no intention of taking your life away. You can have my word for it.”

The man spat towards the soldier’s direction and cocked the gun’s hammer. “Every word that comes from the mouth of a Zeon scum is a lie!”

It seemed that his statement drew the last straw, for the soldier quickly drew his sidearm and shot the man on the head. The bullet sent him dropping backwards as his blood permeated in the sand.

He muttered, “I was intending to let you live from the start but… you’re so stubborn!”

He kneeled at the dead man’s body and frisked among his clothing to find the module that he was looking for. Finally his hand felt a metallic bulge inside the shirt pocket. As he took the object, he immediately pressed a button on the communicator mounted on his left ear, and said, “My lord, High Command Special Operative Chitz Justaway here. I have secured the module.”

* * * * *

Thousands of miles away, a man wearing the distinct Royal Zeon High Command vestment smiled and replied, “Well done, Operative Justaway. You are to depart the vicinity and return to base as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.”

“I understand, my lord,” came the reply.

At last, my plans to secure the future are unfolding elegantly! It is high time that humanity has to be decultured from that which enmity sprouts!

His thoughts faded off as an attending officer informed him, “Lord Ashram, we are about to land at Iberia Base.”

“Very good. Have General Trueno prepare for immediate strategy planning. An information, and a valuable one at that, is on its way.”

“Yes, my lord.”

* * * * *

NEU Atlantic Base

Puerto Rico

Howling, Sidhikoro, and Melendrez were sitting in a room that seemed to be a reception lounge except that it was partially dank and smelly. It had a wide observation window that was overlooking the base’s internal grounds. Overall, the whole facility is small compared to other renegade bases; four bays for receiving small ships, a cavern where the hangar bay and maintenance area for mobile suits were integrated together. A rather short linear catapult deck that could be inclined to a 30o angle was situated at the rightmost area. Above the cavern were the living areas for the personnel. The facility’s capacity could accommodate fifteen mobile suits at once for repair and maintenance.

Sidhikoro said, “So this is how NEU functions; a renegade mobile weaponry developer making business in the black market. It seems that they are impressively organized. Back at the Hive, Anaheim has a rather extravagant and high-tech amenities and equipment for a mobile suit development facility, but even this one can actually develop a mobile weapon from scratch.”

“Heads up, Diko-senpai. Achilles is being hoisted to a mobile suit shelf.” Freed was peering outside the observation window and saw the golden Gundam prepped up for maintenance, repair and upgrade.

Howling crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “This so-called ‘Professor’ guy sure is late.”

Minutes later, Amber entered the room. She said, “A sub-ordinate told me that he’s still in their satellite facility in Pakistan. But something must be up there.”

“You mean, he’s not here at all?” Freed asked.

“Hmmm. If that’s the case, then it must have something to do with the recent Royal Zeon activity in Pakistan where they attacked some pockets of resistance suspected to be Federation sympathizers or NEU rebels. But I have a hunch that they were searching for that rumored red Gundam-type mobile suit that was manufactured illegally,” she replied.

Howling thought, The Astraeus Blaze…So that means…

Sidhikoro put in, “Let’s find out.” He saw a computer terminal on the desk before him and worked on it, hacking the facility’s information network.

“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t just get your hands on things around here!” Amber protested.

“I’m in,” Diko announced.

“Nice work, Diko-senpai,” Freed praised.

“According to the recent activity log, four NEU mobile suits launched fifteen minutes prior to our arrival. Count, two Jugho type, one ZAKU NEU Custom, and,” Sidhikoro stopped. “This is interesting, Howling.”

His statement caught the curiosity of the three. “What is?”

“This one.”

Amber looked at the schematic display. “That’s a transformable type mobile suit…”

“…known as NOU Zeta. A Gundam unit,” Drake put in.

Freed whistled in amazement. “Wow, literally, Gundams seem to be all over every place.”

Sidhikoro continued to work with the keyboard and got into a much classified information. “Take a load of this. A NEU snitch managed to blend into the Earth Federation ranks and landed a special assignment in ‘you-know-where’.”

Howling answered, “In the orbital weapon facility.”

“Yeah, and there’s a rendezvous point with that snitch in Pakistan. I reckon that this man has secured a much classified information concerning the Heaven’s Fist. So this means that they do have the same aim as we do.”

Sidhikoro turned the terminal off and sighed deeply. “So this is what this side trip is all about, huh? We’re looking for allies.”

Melendrez pondered and said, “In just a split second, the Federation has gained the upper hand. That dreadful weapon has tilted the balance in their favor. Before it was constructed, it was apparent that they are on the losing end of the Lost Century war.”

“They even pursued the dissolution of their paramilitary group Earth Militaire to integrate them into their own force. But now, Royal Zeon is being threatened.”

Amber said, “But Zeon doesn’t have to worry about their colonies, right? I mean, there are lots of civilians in the colonies.”

“At this point, we can’t say that,” Howling replied. “We don’t have the information of it yet, so we have to wait on this ‘Professor’ guy. But try to imagine the Heaven’s Fist with enough vector thrusters. It can be aimed to a colony in a matter of few hours at most. At any rate, one thing is for sure.”

“Heaven’s Fist must be destroyed,” she said.

Sidhikoro had a grim look on his face. Clenching his fist in a bridled anger, he added, “At all costs…” For the sake of my homeland… I will inflict revenge, even if it would cost me my life!!!!

* * * * *

Desert of Pakistan

Justaway stated to walk towards the command tank when the turret gunner called, “Wait! Commander Justaway! The radar detects seismic activity thirty meters ahead of our location!”

“What?!” Justaway hurried onto the tank and saw the seismic graph record. There was a peak in the graph.

“Unit 4, check it out. Proceed with caution and keep your eyes open!”

“10 – 4, Commander!”

One Widowmaker started its engines, producing a cloud of dust as its levitators moved it forward.

“Unit 4, switching infrared and thermal radars on. Weapons hot.”

Justaway slid to his seat and watched through the monitor screen. “Do you detect anything?”

There was a momentary silence as the navigator scanned the area. Then it replied, “No, Commander, there’s nothing… Wait!! There’s some kind of activity here!”

Meters away, the man hiding in the dunes griped, “That does it! You drew first blood, so you’ll pay with your lives!”

He took a special remote control from his side pocket and pressed a series of buttons. Speaking to the contraption, he said, “Enable voice control. Activate remote slave mode!”

Inside a mobile suit cockpit, light turned on and the monitor screen booted for start up. Displayed on it were the words, “Voice recognition input identified as Keith Newman. DOM Giga Zange booting, activating remote slave mode.”

As the mobile suit started, it immediately stood up, emerging from its pit under the desert sand. Dust and sand were scattered all over the area. It happened that Unit 4 was directly above it.

“What the –?!?! MOVE IT!!!” the surprised gunner shouted. “Unit 1, this is Unit 4!! It’s a mobile –!” The hovertank was hurled over and landed on its side.

Justaway was shocked to see a huge mobile suit rising from the ground, its green menacing monoeye scanning the area in its parameters. It’s a Royal Zeon DOM!! But how could…?!?

“UNIT 4!!!!”

The other hovertanks were frozen to their places. It took them long enough to think and react.

“All units, commence attack, designated target, DOM! Load cannons with Polaris projectiles! Follow formation Dingbat 7!! Fire at will!!!”

The tanks started to move to their designated strategic places, simultaneously firing their rail cannons armed with solid blunt slugs. The slugs were intended to destroy the target by inflicting a series of physical damage.

“Cacho, why aren’t we moving?!” Justaway angrily shouted.

“Levitators 2 and 3 aren’t synchronizing, Commander!” replied the navigator helplessly.

“Kuso!! Force a startup, NOW!!!”

Meanwhile the DOM was shielding itself from the bombardment. Being heavily armored, it held up against the explosions all around.

“Try to restart the hovering system! Inohara, siege mode! Target the leg joint! You can’t miss it at point blank range. All other units, continue firing!” Justaway barked at his gunner crew.

The man controlling the DOM, being identified as Keith Newman, stood up and ran towards the command unit. Muttering under his breath, he used the remote control and said, “Launch pincers! Target, command unit!”

The DOM raised its left arm and a weapon mounted on it unfolded into what seemed an attack mode. A sudden blast sounded and the huge pincers launched, clamping onto the command unit. Its sharp claws plunged through the tank’s armor like a hot knife slicing through butter. Justaway was knocked over; his sidearm fell onto the floor. Just an arm’s length, one claw crushed to death the navigator while the gunner’s legs were pinned against the solid metal. Blood started to drip.

“GAAAKKKK!!!!”

Luckily, Justaway was unscathed, just inches away from the penetrating claw. He thought, This is why I abhor war! The pointless killing that all of us have to do… but then when it comes down to this, either my life or my enemy’s, then…

He tried to pry open the turret hatch but due to the impact caused by the pincers, a dent on the metal armor prevented it to open wide and remained stuck shut.

“At a time as this?!?”

Meanwhile, the DOM released the pindown and started to attack the other tanks, which had started to move and formed a barricade around the command unit. The commlink crackled, “Commander, are you all right?!? Say something!!!”

Justaway got out using the hole left by the claws. He was clenching in his hand the computer module that contained vital information concerning the Heaven’s Fist.

I must bring this information to Lord Ashram or… Justaway thought.

Suddenly, a downward kick that seemingly came out of nowhere hit his hand, sending the module away from him. Another kick was about to make its mark onto his face but he was able to block it using his left forearm. He flicked his other arm that brought out a dagger and attacked the cloaked opponent. The other man was just in time to avoid the blade coming in contact with his neck, but his cloak was ripped open, revealing his face to Justaway. Both warriors jumped away and posed to a defensive stance.

“So you’re the one who’s called the ‘Professor’!”

“And if our intelligence serves us right, you’re Zeon’s ace, Justaway, the sole survivor of the ambush by the Earth Militaire a few years back. And don’t call me ‘Professor’!! You have something that doesn’t belong to you. If you know what’s good for you –!”

Justaway sneered, “Funny that I said the same line to your comrade, who seems to be dead already!” Without warning, Justaway threw the dagger against Newman. Newman quickly grabbed his cloak and flapped it against the ballistic object. He managed to stop the dagger but was totally unaware of the follow-up attack from his opponent. A blade sprung out of Justaway’s combat boot sole and he jumped into mid-air to strike the other man down. The pointed blade was directed toward Newman’s heart.

BLAG!

Both men dropped hard on the ground. Somehow the knife was stopped short by Newman’s mobile suit remote control which he placed inside his left chest pocket after activating the DOM. The mobile suit, on the other hand, suddenly stopped moving.

Oh no! The DOM is deactivated!

Newman reached for his gun holstered on his side and shot at Justaway, emptying the whole magazine. By instinct, Justaway somersaulted and hid behind the damaged tank. Reaching for his own gun, he was shocked to find out that it was gone.

He pressed his communicator and said, “All units, cover me! The enemy mobile suit is immobile!!”

One tank quickly responded and fired a launcher at close range. It was a rocket-propelled napalm grenade distinct with its whistling sound when shot. Newman turned his head by impulse, seeing the incoming projectile.

“Oh, shoot!!”

The napalm engulfed the perimeter in searing flames; Justaway used this opportunity to escape while Newman was distracted. He ran quickly as he could and contacted, “Transport 1, this is Justaway!! Launch Zypher immediately! Input rendezvous coordinates, Alpha – 3, Theta – 4! NOW!!!”

Forty-six kilometers away, a single transport truck concealed among the sand dunes hoisted a mobile suit on its carrier bed. The bed had extended arms that stretched out, allowing the mobile suit to be launched into flight velocity immediately. Few minutes later, the mobile suit was airborne.

* * * * *

BOOM!!!

Another grenade was hurled toward the same location.

“Commander!! Get out of there now! You’re in a seriously precarious situation!” crackled Justaway’s communicator.

I can see that! he griped.

Meanwhile Newman was struggling as he was surrounded by flames due to the explosions. He reached for the remote control but it was destroyed when it stopped Justaway’s dagger from piercing his heart.

“And at such a time as this! I must get to the DOM quick!”

Hurdling over the flames, Newman ran toward the huge mobile suit that became immobile after the remote controller was destroyed. He immediately climbed onto the cockpit hatch and stepped inside.

“Okay, I’ve been too close to dying today, and that irritates me! Let me teach you a lesson!” Newman switched and flicked off several buttons and placed his hands on the manipulator controllers.

“Deactivate remote slave mode!” Gaining manual controls, he then brought the DOM to move towards Justaway’s location.

* * * * *

“All units!! Cover me!” Justaway called through the commlink. Have they launched the Zypher already?

Following the orders given, three hovertanks changed into siege mode and fired away while the other one was trying to fetch Justaway into safety. With such a heavy barrage, a projectile successfully hit the DOM with such force that managed to knock it over.

“Did we get it?” asked the hovertank gunner.

Suddenly the DOM outright stood up again and reached for a long rod on its back. As the weapon powered up, it became a heat machete. Then its drive thrusters roared into life as the mobile suit sped toward the nearest tank, vulnerable to attack.

“Let’s get out of here!! Move it, move - ! It’s to laaaaaaa-!”

BOOOMMMM!!!!

The machete sliced the tank into two and immediately exploded, incinerating the three-man crew. The other two tanks quickly disengaged the siege mode but on unit stopped and powered down in mid-transformation.

“What’s happening?!? Why’s the cycle not completed?!”

“There seems to be a mechanical malfunction when we immediately reverted to tank mode, sir!”

“Then do something about it!!” replied harshly by the tank unit commander.

Up ahead, the DOM was attacking the other tank which managed to move away. While wheeling off, the turret turned and aimed directly at the suit.

Inside the cockpit, Newman was muttering, “Don’t do it! Don’t force me!!”

BAM! BAM!

The tank sent a double shot against the DOM. The tactic was to load two slugs all at once, usually a high-blaster followed by an armor-piercer, to successfully damage the heavily-armored mobile suit such as the DOM. But the cinch was putting excess pressure on the railgun barrel, of which in this case, cracked and rendered out of commission. Anyhow, the double shot managed to hit the DOM’s left torso but it was still moving forward.

“Nice try, but G-Alloy Ex. T5 is not third class armor!!” Newman shouted. He rammed the left manipulator control stick forward, sending off the heat pincers mounted on its left arm, spinning towards the escaping tank. As it connected, it ripped the tank’s armor apart easily as tearing a piece of paper. Seeing the crew’s terror, Newman closed his eyes as he hesitated whether to kill them or not. But when he opened his eyes, they were blazing with fury. He pulled the control stick’s red trigger that caused the pincer to shoot its beam weapon that was integrated into it. The intense heat even before the weapon shot instantly killed the crew and relieve them from their demise.

BOOOM!!!

* * * * *

“Can’t we move yet?!” the tank commander demanded angrily.

“I’ll try restarting the siege mode sequence and revert back to tank mode.”

Meanwhile the gunner turned the turret and loaded another special kind of slug that explodes in midair while spraying hundreds of ultra-hard and sharp shrapnel and fired against the mobile suit. Somehow the DOM seemed unharmed.

Newman mocked, “I told you, those kinds of tactics won’t work! This mobile suit’s armor is NEU’s pride! Now, take this!!”

The DOM took the heat machete and flung it horizontally, spinning toward the stalled tank. Amazingly the weapon sliced off the turret from the body but decapitated the gunner’s head in the process. The heat caused the tank’s armor to melt, and as the temperature rose to a combustible level, the fuel caught fire and exploded.

Suddenly another slug hit the DOM on its right shoulder, which was unprotected. The attack managed to send the whole right arm twisting at its joint, severing hydraulic hoses crucial to movement.

“WARNING! Right manipulator malfunction!”

“TSK!” Newman exclaimed, “and they managed to land a significant hit! But who - ?” He scanned the area and saw that the shot came from the tank that was knocked over to its side earlier.

He was furious. “I was letting you live but since you inflicted a hefty damage, you’ll pay!”

All thrusters went to life that catapulted the heavy DOM into sub-flight. Upon reaching a certain altitude, Newman cut off the power and sent the DOM to a free fall drop. Right below it was the downed tank.

BLAG!!! SHNNNKK!!

Sounds of compressed metal straining against such pressure were heard amidst the shouts of the crew. Then the DOM once again started to hover, its thrusters under the soles roaring with intense heat. It caused the tank to catch fire and eventually exploded into oblivion.

“One more tank left!”

All of the sudden, the radar detected a fast approaching object. “What?! Is it a reinforcement?!”

Newman scanned the area visually and noticed an airborne object shimmering in the afternoon sky. As he adjusted the main telephoto camera, he was surprised as the monitor revealed a mobile suit, weapons ready.

“That’s a…. a Gundam!! There’s no mistaking it!!”

Without warning, the Zypher sent several beam shots while the DOM quickly hovered backward, swerving from right to left in avoiding being hit, but the other mobile suit was speeding near. Immediately it reached for a beam saber and reached forward for a slash attack.

SWOOOSH!! BZZZZMMT!!

Somehow the DOM managed to move out of harm’s way; the beam saber struck the sand instead, causing it to melt under the heat. The molten sand turned into hundreds of glass-like globules. In retaliation, the DOM fired a spray from its Vulcan guns but the other suit nimbly dodged the attack.

The commlink crackled, “Don’t be so overconfident with your suit’s armor because I used to pilot one!!! Even if you stay on the downlow, I can still get you!!”

It’s Justaway! Newman thought.

He released several high energy grenades that exploded in succession. Amid the blast, the Gundam charged through, its arms crossed to form a protective wall. Meanwhile, the explosion flash temporarily blinded Justaway’s monitor so he intently watched the radar screen. Newman on the other hand foresaw Zypher’s charging position, so he brought the DOM lurching forward, meeting it halfway.

CLANG!!

The heavier suit was able to stop the rushing Gundam and shoved it back. As Zypher landed on the sand, it started to struggle maintaining the balance, since the sandy ground constantly shifted under its weight. The DOM however, had wider sole assembly, enabling it to have a much better stability.

“What the heck?!?” Justaway exclaimed. Giving out a voice command, he barked, “Adjust gyroscopes and lock on to point zero three five! Compensate for stability!”

Newman saw his opportunity and positioned the DOM’s pincers and fired the beam blaster in it. The other pilot was just in time to deploy a protective layer of beam barrier, sending the beam shot scattering away and hitting the ground instead.

“Okay, it has an I-Field… Now this battle’s getting more interesting by the minute!” Newman said. Suddenly his radar went off.

“Now, he’s gained proper stability! That was quick, Gundam pilot!” he muttered. He fixed his eyes on the monitor that was constantly scanning and detecting the enemy’s offensive move. Two huge claw-like beams formed on each of Zypher’s forearms, of which both reached out to strike.

“OH, HELL NO!!!!”

Reversing the hover thrusters, Newman desperately backed off from the ever-increasing claws, which this time managed to cut the face. The searing heat fried and melted the DOM’s forward optical cameras including the main mooneye cam. All his monitors started to pixelate and then went black. Immediately, he typed a series of computer algorithms that integrated all kinds of existing radar information and produced a false image on the monitor. Adding up a computer generated imagery, his suit’s vision was restored, except that everything was black and white. He sighed in relief and said, “It’s a good thing that experience is on my side!”

* * * * *

“What’s this?! He’s able to keep up with me for five minutes, regardless of the obvious difference of our mobile suit’s performance!” Justaway angrily complained to himself.

He continued the attack the DOM, which was maintaining a momentous distance to avoid close quarter attacks. Meanwhile, Newman was multitasking between dodging and restoring the right manipulator’s backup hydraulic system. At last, the computer confirmed that the right arm’s mobility was 76% restored.

“The response time is a drag but this will work!” Newman commented. Establishing a commlink, he said, “All right! I’ve played with you for so long. Time to go down to business!”

Justaway responded, “Now, you’re talking my language!!”

It was the DOM that made the first move, with an outside horizontal slash from the beam saber. To counter the attack, Zypher shoved it upwards using a beam claw. The DOM immediately followed it up with a full force swing with the heat machete but due to its right arm’s initial damage, there was a delay in the attack, of which Zypher was able to parry using the other beam claw.

Both mobile suits were in a defensive parrying lock. The intense heat generated added to the increase of the surface temperature of their suits, which was mainly caused by the early afternoon heat of the sun and desert. Since both units tried to push each other away, Zypher was easily overpowered while the DOM had the better leverage, thanks to its wide soles and hover thrusters.

Justaway immediately backed off, since Zypher was starting to strain against the sheer strength of the DOM. Letting its thrusters blast off, the Gundam flew above the other unit and deployed a hyper mega particle buster cannon at an almost close range.

Upon seeing the imminent attack, Newman shrieked, “THAT is cheating!!!”

A loud and shrill sound was screaming off as the buster cannon powered up and let off a high energy blast.

SSHHHHHHHHKKKKK!!!!! BOOOOOOOOM!!!!!

As the blast diminished, the DOM could be seen knocked off by the explosion.

“ALERT! Slight structural damage!” warned the computer while the monitor displayed blinking red marks indicating the precise damage that the DOM sustained after the blast. Newman brought the mobile suit upright and dashed away, since he knew that the DOM had slim to no chance in getting back at the Gundam with its destructive main weapons arrayed into attacking position. Meanwhile the Gundam landed on the ground and poised for another volley from the buster cannon. Kneeling down for a firm leverage, it started to fire for the second time. Justaway increased the power concentration level.

“Output to 125%! Try to stop this!!!” The same shrill noise sounded followed by a blinding flash of beam coming straight at the DOM.

In desperation, Newman pushed his suit up to its limits. Fearing for his life, he cried out over the commlink, “I’m not gonna give you the pleasure of taking away my life!!! THIS IS MY CHOICE!!! I CHOOSE TO LIVE THROUGH THIS!!!”

BOOOOM!!!!

The buster shot was meters away from the DOM but its armor started to buckle and deform. Portions of it already ablated.

I’m gonna be dead meat if I don’t think of something! As Newman scanned the area, he noticed that the recent buster cannon shot caused a deep trench to form in the sand that stretched along a considerable length. Upon seeing it, he got an idea.

“Wait a minute! I recognize these parts! This is Chevron’s… Could it be that this area is… AHA!”

The DOM returned the beam hilt to its rack and activated the pincer and the machete. Standing over the trench, it awaited for the other mobile suit to charge and attack. Shooting its Vulcans at the soaring Gundam, Newman hoped to provoke it to draw closer.

Come here, kitty, kitty… Take the bait!

Above, Justaway saw that the DOM stopped moving. Instead, it stood its ground and held the heat machete into an attacking position.

“Challenging me to a melee combat, huh?! Then I won’t disappoint you!!”

Zypher reached for the heat whip rods from the tactical binder’s support rack and dashed downward to the awaiting enemy. The DOM stared to shoot beam shots to rouse the Gundam to attack closer, of which it obliged by sending a whip rod slithering fast in midair. Using its pincers fully open, the DOM caused the whip rod to entangle with it and reeled it towards itself. Zypher let go of the jumbled rod and used the other one, of which was blocked by the heat machete. Newman rammed the right manipulator stick and pressed hard on the hover thrusters while releasing several grenades that were timed to set off altogether. The DOM maneuvered to a rocket-assisted high jump as the heat machete slammed deep on the ground, ripping open Chevron’s old and abandoned oil pipeline. As the oil flowed out under high pressure, the grenades simultaneously exploded which caused the oil to catch fire and blew up into a chain of spontaneous combustion.

BOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!

Since the pipe was still under pressure, oil spurt out all over the Gundam, engulfing it in flames as well.

Justaway started to panic in the chaos of the situation. “What the frack is going on?!?”

* * * * *

The DOM was also burning but generally remained functional. Newman was pleased with a realization. He’s unfamiliar with this kind of terrain ?! Probably he did more action in space or somewhere else. Hmmmmm… I can use that to my advantage and survive this onslaught!

Almost after he finished his thought, a stream of beam energy streaked through from the flames and thick, black smoke. The blast hit the DOM’s head unit, causing it to explode.

SHHHHKKKKK!!! BAAAAMMM!!!

“Nani?!? The Gundam is still highly operational?!”

The Gundam, being engulfed in flames, sustained an air conditioning malfunction as the air vents had been taking in smoke and fire. Inside the cockpit, Justaway was becoming disoriented, confounded by the rising temperature.

“ALERT! Ventilation system error!”

Choking due to the smoke buildup, Justaway immediately reversed the fans, expelling out the carbon monoxide. He reached for his helmet and used the pilot suit’s breathing system.

Meanwhile, Newman slammed on the monitor to coax it to display his peripheral vision, which was by now fluctuating. Nearby, the scorched Zypher managed to come up and about, zipping fast in a high speed maneuver with its arms deploying the beam claws fully extended. It then maneuvers into a corkscrew twist with the claws spinning menacingly against the damaged DOM. This time, Newman was too late in his reaction. The right arm which was extended in an instinctive defense stance, was sliced off into pieces.

“ARGH!!” cried Newman as sparks of electricity crackled around him. The attack caused the DOM to fall on its back. Quickly, he pushed the levers as the mobile suit strained to get up.

“OH, NO, YOU WON’T!!!” shouted Justaway as Zypher stood over the DOM, placed each of the claws on its either side. “Try to stand and I will cut you in half!”

Over the intercom, Newman replied, “DO IT!! Or else you’d miss this opportunity and regret it later!”

“Oh, that’s what I have in mind!”

Suddenly a fierce head wind from the north started to brew and caused up a tornado swirling in the area. Newman thought, Ah, like the battle against the Crimson Striker!!!

Turning to the other pilot, he said, “Numbskull!”

“Hahahaha!!” Justaway sneered. “Is that all you can afford to say now?! Nice name-calling but you’re still going to lose!”

But before Zypher could do its move, Newman yanked a control stick hard left, sending the DOM’s leg kicking the other unit’s right leg. Zypher fell backward, to Justaway’s utter surprise. Almost immediately, Keith ejected a fuel pod against the wind’s direction, releasing fuel downwind and churning around them. “Just my luck! My last grenade!”

A grenade was set to explode and the area was engulfed in an eddy of intense inferno. Newman took this chance and brought the DOM up, veering away. Over the intercom, he taunted, “I pity you! You have a fine mobile suit but still, you can’t take down a rickety, old mobile suit! Your Gundam’s weakness is not on its design but on your inexperience in desert combat!”

In spite of Zypher being down on the ground, it brought forth one of its buster cannons into firing position. “Then experience this!!!” Chitz pulled the buster cannon’s trigger.

BOOM!!!!

“ACK!!!!” Newman shrieked as the blast obliterated the DOM’s left thigh, throwing the mobile suit forward slamming hard against the ground. He was thrown forward against the control dashboard. “Oh, crap!! At this rate, I’ll be done for!”

With the right arm and left thigh destroyed, the DOM was unable to move. as Newman was trying his best out of his situation, he was startled by the loud alarm warning him of the Gundam starting to charge in.

“HRG!”

Newman clutched control sticks and pressed hard on the pedals to move away but to no avail.

Since Zypher was using much of its energy, the system warned Justaway that it was getting low. Deploying one beam claw, Justaway went in for an attack. With just twenty feet away, his radar went off, signaling him of four unidentified high-speed objects nearing their location. “Compare heat signatures with the Zeon database!”

The computer informed him, “Detecting two EF Jugho units, one ZAKU unit, and one unidentified mobile suit in waverider mode.”

Waverider?! Then it’s a GUNDAM!!

As quick as a wink, a green streak of energy blast zipped onto the Zypher, with Justaway deploying the I-Field just in the nick of time.

“WARNING!! Energy below 15%!”

Suddenly his commlink went on. It was a communication relay from Iberia base.

“Just what the hell are you doing, Operative Justaway?!? You have your hands on the information, right?! We cannot afford to lose that at this point!!! So turn your heels and get out of there!!!”

“I – I am sorry, my lord! RTB now!”

Slamming hard on the thruster pedals, Zypher went off and sped away. The NEU reinforcements composed of the Jughos and a ZAKU, including the transformable mobile suit known as NOU Zeta zipped in pursuit.

Below, Newman saw his comrades picking up the fight. Over the commlink, he heard the Zeta’s pilot, Nouveau Gardien giving out orders to the grunt suits.

“Commence assault and show no mercy!!! Its support unit might be nearby! Remember what they did to Mumar!”

Addressed the Newman, Gardien said, “Are you all right Professor?”

“The latest G-alloy development saved my hide, Nouveau! The DOM’s in a pretty bad shape, but I am all right here,” he replied in relief. “And stop calling me ‘Professor’!”

* * * * *

Twenty-four hours later, Newman was back in the NEU base. The reinforcements managed to drive off Zypher Gundam even though it pretty held up during the retreat. The NOU Zeta destroyed the transport unit and other “Widowmaker” hovertanks in the vicinity.

While retreating, Justaway was clenching his fists and angrily thought, Wait till I get my hands on you, Zeta pilot! I’ll look forward to seeing you in the battlefield… and I can feel that it’s very soon!

* * * * *

Newman and Howling were talking in a briefing room. Surrounding them were Oracle’s party and some NEU personnel crucial for the planning.

Keith said, “It is a pity that Zeon managed to take the information away at the cost of a comrade's life. Mumar's loss will not go in vain, I assure you all. And I am still trembling in anger on that ace pilot, Justaway and his Gundam. But enough of that. We have to think of plan B as on what to do with the orbital weapon.”

Howling thought, Hmmm… Royal Zeon seems to be having a lot of surprises lately. They’re getting their hands on Gundam units, too. Could it be –? No… That would be very absurd…

He shook off the thought and said, “What do you intend to do now?”

“Hmmmm, pretty much the same, though, we lack the information as to where to hit,” Keith spoke. “Why not trail behind the empire? Since they now have the information, we might be able to pick up something on their trail.”

Freed butted in, “PSH! Like working side-by-side with Royal Zeon? Are you serious?!”

Sidhikoro thoughtfully said, “Well, we don’t have much choice at this point, don’t we?”

“I have looked into the plan of securing that orbital weapon, Heaven’s Fist, as you have initially formed into a layout. I don’t think that that plan is good, though. You plan of taking over the controls and firing at Earth Federation; I am nowhere near that plan. All we have to do is to secure it by destroying it completely,” Drake said.

Newman disagreed, “Earth Federation is an evil world order suppressing freedom to achieve a kind of peace that is enforced in a brutal, inhuman manner. They must be annihilated from the face of this world. This way, they can have a taste of their own medicine and do justice to those whose lives were taken away.”

“Are you siding with the Empire now? Can’t you see that they are the same these Federation scums?” Howling flatly answered, which caused a cloud of tension to permeate the room.

Freed was furious, “The Empire is no better! They used nations, they usurped power themselves. We were victims of their attempt to come into power both in space and on earth! Have you forgotten what happened to my home colony, Eidon? They would break the Treaty as they please easily as the Federation would! You’d never know because you didn’t experience the horror that they can cause!!!”

THE HORROR?! You didn’t know what I have been through, you jerk! Newman was obviously angered. “Oh, you shut the hell up! We will destroy the Federation AND THEN the Empire! Who says about siding with one group? Ignorant fool!”

“KISAMA!! What did you just call me?!” Freed shouted, reaching for a concealed dagger from his right boot and was about to attack Newman. As quick as lightning, Gardien dashed in front of Newman to protect him, raising his sidearm and pointed it against Melendrez.

Gardien looked at Melendrez through his narrow eyes, his muscles tensed. “That’s a wrong move, you idiot. You’re gonna regret this, I tell you.”

Smiling sardonically, Freed replied, “Ooh, wanna bet, masked masquerader? Go and deal with your insecurities! Let’s see which zips faster, your bullet or my dagger. What do you say?”

“That’s enough, Nouveau!!” Newman called with emphasis. Gardien holstered his gun and straightened but his narrow eyes never left from glaring at Freed.

“Good dog! Down, boy, down!” Freed mockingly said.

“You, too, Freed! Sometimes I feel that you need to be gagged from time to time, seriously…” Howling said.

Turning to Keith, he said, “I think we can continue talking like civilized people here, don’t you think?”

Keith announced, “Okay, people, we don’t want violence in this room, do you hear?”

“So, NEU’s optimal objective is to destroy BOTH the Federation and the Empire?”

Newman answered, “That’s the plan. We will use the orbital weapon against the Federation AND the Empire. These kinds of governments distort us all. War will not cease as long as these entities exist.”

“And upon their absence, who do you think should rule BOTH on earth and in space? YOU?” Howling challenged the other man.

“As long as it can maintain peace on earth and space, I’d be willing to do the necessary action,” said Keith, without batting an eyelash.

There was utter silence. Finally Amber spoke up, “Then you’re heading to the same direction as the Federation and Empire are going. Don’t you see? Peace is not as cheap as imposing it through force, or destroying governments. You can’t wage war to attain peace, can you? There must be some other way that you can think of.”

“Like what, Miss ‘Pacifist’, asking them to lay down their guns and shake hands?!” Keith exclaimed. “Hahahaha!! I can’t believe this! Don’t you know that pacifists in the past cannot attain their aims in any way? Our ancestor had been there, done that. And you come here telling me this ‘bull’ and expecting us to approve of your view?”

“I dare to disagree, Professor. Obviously you are in no position to govern humanity. You’re a god of war yourself, or have you forgotten? I for one believe that even in this trying times, the Federation and the Empire can co-exist!” Drake butted in.

“Co-exist, you say?! My, my, my, another pacifist! What’s this? Is your group, the Oracle, a bunch of disillusioned pacifists? These scums warp our existence as humans and you still believe in them?”

“I believe in the goodness of humanity. And I don’t negate the truth that there are evil people leading these entities, leaders with corrupt and warped minds that direct innocent people under them and causing them to kill each other. You can’t call that peace, when you exterminate everyone that fancies you. You must remove that which distorts and warps us and try to pick it up from that point and head towards unity and peace,” Howling said.

Another period of silence.

Sidhikoro chuckled sarcastically and said, “Hmp! People are so naïve! How come we don’t see the truth behind all these? There’s no definite ‘black and white’ faction here, people! Every group that fights, and that includes us all, I tell you, has a demon inside of them. It’s when we lose to the demons inside us that make us all capable of doing inhuman acts against another human being regardless whether they be naturals or newtypes or genetically- augmented; whether they be spacenoids or earth dwellers; it doesn’t matter!”

He rose from his seat and said, “This talk is pointless when we don’t see the same vision of future that humanity, earth, and space deserves. I’m gonna step out and let you ‘big guns’ think it over and come together with a unified resolve. Honestly, I don’t believe we can pull this off unless you two would agree on one thing.”

The door hissed open and Sidhikoro stepped out. Amber worriedly asked, “Hey, where are you going?”

“I’ll be better off helping with the repairs and upgrading of Achilles. Let me know when you two,” pointing at Newman and Howling, “understand each other.”

The door behind him slid shut, and the room was again silent.

Howling broke the silence. “I see that we desire two completely different things. And I don’t think that we can help each other at this rate. Sadly, this isn’t what I desired, but I still believe in humanity’s capability to choose – to choose peace over war, to choose to shake hands instead of pulling the trigger. At any rate, nevertheless, I will follow my conviction that God will eventually bring peace in this war-forsaken world, with us as His agents of change. I will change the world. This is my choice.”

He stood and went toward the door. Turning to Melendrez, he said, “Freed, we’re leaving. Amber, I think you should, too. Diko is right, as always.”

Amber said, “What are you doing, Mr. Howling? Are you just going to leave? You can’t carry the whole burden on your shoulders alone! You’ll gonna die!”

“Newman and I don’t desire the same thing, Amber. So there’s no point of asking him. But don’t worry, we’ll find a way to save your father.” Howling gave a weak smile and headed out.

Freed spoke up and said, “And Zyann, too, who’s become a victim in all this. Let's not forget about her.”

Amber thought, Oh, my! I forgot about my niece!

Newman had a contemplation as well. What do these people know about Zyann Nigel?

Howling just closed his eyes for a moment, upon hearing the name ‘Zyann’. Turning to Newman, he said, “We’ll leave as soon as Achilles is finished, and as your Tiberian department finishes loading the weapons packages for the Rauwolf. Thank you for your help and assistance.” With that, the trio started to leave.

“Just a moment.”

Drake stopped in his tracks and faced Newman. Melendrez rolled his eyes and said, “What now?”

“You’re an old, hard man, Howling, do you know that?”

Drake smiled. “Yeah, people ALWAYS tell me that. What do you have in mind?”

“After all the endless and meaningless wars that I witnessed, I came to believe that there is no god in this world. Humanity alone thinks of itself as its own 'god', hence the war. Me, I don't believe in higher beings, only myself; I act upon the inner god called 'possibility', the miracle that many do not see inside themselves,” Newman seriously commented. “Humans have long interested me in their foolish ways... Sometimes I wonder why I'm one of them, why we create weapons, mobile suits that in the long run prolong the agony and chaos brought by wars that we all detest. It's interesting to see myself making the mistakes that I often criticize others for making. But I will not stop believing that I can change this world in my own way."

Howling shook his head and said, “We have different views and opposing ideologies, but it amazes me to see that we desire the same thing… Maybe this is what convinces us that one day, humanity can be united as one. Maybe, this is a choice that all of us must make; the choice to unite.”

At this, the two men extended their right hands and shook hands. It was followed by shouts of cheer by those present, except for Freed and Nouveau, who were still hostile to each other.

“Hey, Newman, you better stress to your man over here that NEU and Oracle are allies at this time being.” Melendrez suspiciously glanced at the masked man.

“Why, accidental superhero, afraid of me to shoot you in the back?” Gardien menacingly challenged.

Amber protested, putting an arm over each other’s shoulders, “Oh, stop it, you two! Who knows, your butt might be saved by the other in the battlefield.”

Howling asked Newman, “Was it you who forwarded a certain advisory of the razing of Surabaya, ‘professor’?”

“You can thank me later. And stop calling me ‘professor’!”

* * * * *

Later, when the two men were the ones remaining in the room, Howling asked Newman, “Hey, Newman, I have to ask you something, because you might have a lead on it.”

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Do you have any information about a certain teenage girl named Zyann Nigel, no matter how trivial it may seem?”

Newman was silent for a while. Hmmmm, why is he interested with that girl? Is he after the Astraeus Blaze as well? Possibly, since it’s a very powerful mobile suit. No matter what, they mustn’t know where she is right now.

He cleared his throat and lied, “No I haven’t, though I received Melendrez’s message back then that he’s sending a certain Zyann Nigel over to me from Eidon after Royal Zeon attacked the residential colony while pursuing her. Other than that, I haven’t met her.”

Howling disappointedly sighed.

As Drake steeped out, Keith thought, I’m sorry, old man. This is my choice… You’re shrouded with uncertainty at this point. I can’t fully trust you, at least not yet.

* * * * *

In a luxurious lounge aboard Magna Carta, Captain Litzner Edge presented a battle plan including an information that Royal Zeon High Command member Claude Ashram was presently at the empire’s Iberia base.

“So, what’s your choice, Ricardo?” Edge gamely asked.

Ismail gazed hard at Captain Edge. “What’s the catch?”

“Oh, nothing, really,” Edge replied, casually sounding uninterested. “Except that you do what I tell you, and all of it will be ‘off-the-record’. I’ll provide you the means; weapons, intel, everything including wine, women and song, if you want.”

Ismail grunted and said, “I don’t need your help at all. Just point the direction of that son of a gun, and stay out of my way…”

He then thought, After I kill Ashram, I’m gonna take your life, you heartless murderer!!! This will be my choice, to become a dog to get my hands on you people who need to cease to exist!

Unknown to him, Edge was sinisterly thinking, Once you kill Ashram, you’ll end your usefulness. Then it’s buh-bye to you, impotent mercenary!

* * * * *

Thousands of miles away, Claude Ashram, the Harbinger of Death was sitting still inside his room with eyes closed. After a while he opened his eyes, shining off the unmistakable blue halo.

He said, "Hmmmm, your hatred is surprisingly entertaining... it outshines the rest of your existence... Very well, I shall take you to its very height! Pretty soon, Ismail, pretty soon… And as for you, Edge, you’ll become a useless puppet, too… ” He then grinned indulgingly.

* * * * *

How will the Oracle and NEU work out their common objective? What will Ricardo Ismail’s role in the brewing conflict? Why is Howling interested with Zyann Nigel, who seemed to be missing? Find out in the MS GUNDAM: THE LOST CENTURY INTERQUEL Episode 1 – STAR-CROSSED. You wouldn’t want to miss it.

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